For the past nine years, the Hot Shots series has given countless people who otherwise wouldn’t touch a golf game the ability to enjoy them thanks to their easy-to-learn gameplay, and has also appealed to die-hard gamers by also delivering an in-depth golf experience underneath its cutesy exterior. Now, Clap Hanz (who’s taken the series’ development over from Camelot, who created Mario Tennis) is taking a crack at applying that same concept to a tennis game. For the most part, they’ve succeeded, although there are a few hiccups and oddities to be found in HST.
The first glaring one is lack of an on-screen meter when you’re serving the ball. It’s a standard feature in tennis games, and yet is completely absent here, making an act as simple as serving the ball towards your foe(s) a chore, and far more challenging than it needs to be. Fortunately, things improve a great deal once the ball starts flying and the game gets underway. The controls are logically laid out and very responsive, with square, X, and triangle each enabling you to deliver a different kind of return shot, and either the d-pad or left analog stick can be used to move around the court.
Knowing which kind of shot to use to counter an opponent’s shot is critical, and is actually made fairly easy to determine thanks to the game showing which button’s shot was used around the ball as it flies towards you. While this can sometimes get distracting during doubles games, when there’s already a lot going on, and the triangle button’s green coloring can blend into grass courts, I found this feature to be quite helpful more often than not. If you’ve got a triangle-indicated overhead shot coming at you, it’s usually best to counter it with another overhead shot if your opponent is close to the net, as the shot leaves little time for receiving player to counter it, since it normally flies further out on the court then others.
One thing I don’t like about singles play is that it frequently seems like the characters simply can’t cover enough ground fast enough to return even a slow-moving shot. The characters’ small size also makes it harder, as none of them are all that quick, and it’s harder to tell how far away your character is from the ball because the characters’ shadows are so small, and the button-showing icon around the ball only complicates this, as you can‘t accurately judge just where the ball is either.
Fortunately, some of these problems (in particular the feeling that you simply can’t cover enough ground) are mostly remedied with the doubles mode, since your partner can cover the ground that simply seams impossible to cover on your own. The addition of two other players also adds a great deal of excitement to the game, as you now have to sharpen your reflexes to make up for the added adversary lobbing the ball towards you. I found this play style to be the game’s bread and butter, as its fast pace makes better use of the engine than the slower singles play, and also makes the games seem to go by faster.
Singles matches can seem to drag on far too long, and that’s never a problem with doubles as there’s always something going on. One downside to this, as I mentioned, is that it can seem like there’s too much going on, but that’s only a serious problem early on. It’s a problem that’s definitely worth mentioning, but also one that can be overcome with practice and time, as you’ll eventually get used to it, and just might grow to embrace the fast pace as your preferred method of play. All in all, Hot Shots Tennis’ gameplay is impressive, but problematic. Luckily, its problems aren’t game-killing, and I think another HST installment could be all that’s needed to truly fix them.
Visually, Hot Shots Tennis isn’t a particularly stunning game. It continues the exaggerated, super-deformed look for the characters, and will be instantly familiar to series veterans. Their animation is impressive, and lushly-detailed, as are their facial expressions.. However, with that said, there’s also nothing particularly exciting about the graphics, and the aforementioned highlights are the only memorable elements to the graphics. The visuals aren’t bad, but the courts are fairly bland, and few things beyond the character models are impressively-detailed, which leads to a bland look at times, but also works well at not providing any further distractions from the tennis action.
Like the graphics, Hot Shots Tennis’ audio features a lot of positive elements alongside some slight negative ones. Music is essentially a non-factor in this game, which I didn’t mind, as I’ve found it to be more distracting than helpful in tennis games before, particularly ones (like HST) that allowed you to use the sound of the ball coming towards you to accurately indicate just how far away the ball is. As a result of the lack of music, the sound effects have to carry the audio, and things end up just fine due to that. Beyond the gameplay-assisting sound effects, there are also a variety of sound effects used for hitting the ball with a particular swing, and crowd noise that does a better job of setting each court apart than their visual differences do.
Despite its sometimes problematic gameplay, control, and graphical issues, I found Hot Shots Tennis to be a fairly well put together game, but not one that was particularly memorable. Those looking for a long-lasting, and rewarding experience with Hot Shots Tennis might find it disappointing, as it lacks online play, and the challenge mode only really allows you to unlock new characters and outfits, and doesn’t offer much in the way of variety with either, leaving it feeling kind of hollow, and it doesn’t offer much beyond regular exhibition matches outside of those unlockables either.
HST’s replay value is also hurt a bit by the lack of online play. Sure, it’s a new PS2 release in 2007, so it’s not exactly realistic to expect online play in the system right now, but it is still disappointing, and does hurt how replayed the game is. Once you’ve unlocked everything (which isn’t an incredibly time-consuming affair), you’re left with just the basic game to play, and HST’s gameplay is left as the only thing to keep people coming back to it.
Fortunately, that aspect of the game, while flawed, is deep enough to keep coming back to time and time again. If you’re new to the series, or on the fence about tennis games in general, a rental is probably best. Thanks to its depth and ease of use, it can be greatly enjoyed even by folks who aren’t usually into tennis games, as it’s got an easy learn curve and even includes a training mode that concisely explains things for players who might feel overwhelmed by the intricacies of the game. Completing it won’t take up too much time, which leaves a lot of rental time left to enjoy the meat of the game. Long-time fans of either the series or tennis games can safely purchase this, as there’s a lot of fun to be had and a great deal of gameplay depth to keep you motivated to improve and eventually master the game.